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TimberNook from an OT Perspective

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The TimberNook program is designed to provide children the opportunity to explore nature, learn from the environment around them, and engage in creative play. As occupational therapists, we understand how much an individual’s environment can impact their overall growth. Occupational therapy views play as the most important element to a child’s development. As the American Occupational Therapy Association explains,   “It is often through play that children learn to make sense of the world around them. It is a child’s ‘job’ or ‘occupation’ to play to develop physical coordination, emotional maturity, social skills to interact with other children, and self-confidence to try new experiences and explore new environments.”   TimberNook provides the opportunity for children to develop all these areas while playing outside in nature. Throughout the summer, we have observed an increase in self-direction and development of new skills as children were challenged to engage in play with few directions and no adults providing suggestions about what they could play. The Storybook session with children ages 4-7 began with a morning song, get to know you game, rule review and reading a book before the kids were set loose to play with whatever and whomever they chose. As an adult, watching children navigate social situations, maneuver around obstacles in the woods, and create new games from their own imaginations was an amazing thing to witness. As the week progressed, younger children were asking for help from the older kids and working together to execute a plan or simply open a container.   Another valuable element to TimberNook is the focus on developing independence and problem-solving. In today’s world, children are so prone to seeking adult guidance as soon as something becomes challenging – not so with Timbernook. Children are given the time and space to think through how they could approach any given task and be successful. When they ask a TimberNook staff member a question, staff will often say “how do you think you could solve that problem?” before providing a suggestion. Children are also encouraged to develop the skill of “interoception” by acknowledging when their bodies need water and snacks to fuel themselves throughout the day. Once the kids realized they were able to go get their own snack and drink, asking for help from peers as needed, they began working in a snack break into their play to recharge for the rest of the day. It’s amazing what time and space can do to encourage children to learn and grow!   Ready to give the TimberNook experience a try? There are still 3 sessions left this year! Learn more and register here.          Kristen Beverly, MS, OTS Molly Bartholomew, MS, OTS Elizabethtown College

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TimberNook FAQs

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What is TimberNook? TimberNook is a nature-based developmental outdoor program that integrates sensory experiences, imagination and nature for all kids. Children play together and independently using stories, games, and new experiences to have fun, learn, develop, and explore. The TimberNook curriculum weaves together the therapeutic benefits of nature with activities that inspire children to think creatively, to accept challenges, and even to learn from failure.   What is TimberNook of Lancaster County? TimberNook of Lancaster County is offered as a service of Excentia, a nonprofit organization in Lancaster County that provides supports for people with developmental needs and autism throughout the lifespan. At TimberNook of Lancaster County, children have the chance to play together and independently, using stories, games, and experiences to have fun, learn, develop, and explore. Excentia believes in the TimberNook philosophy that the more children engage in self-directed play and take reasonable risks outdoors, the better equipped they are to be successful in home and school environments.   When will TimberNook programming happen? Storybook Session 1 Dates: May 20 – 24 Time: 9:00am – 12:00pm Capacity: 20 Ages: 4-7 years Description: One of our most popular programs where young children “live and breathe” stories out in the wild. We’ll be doing everything from experimenting with colors in a giant foam experience for the story "Little Blue and Little Yellow" to creating life-sized spider webs over the mud after hearing the story "The Very Busy Spider." With the turn of every day comes a new story for the children to experience and lots of FUN!   Tiny Ones Session Dates: May 28 & 30 and June 4 & 6 Time: 9:00am - 11:00am Capacity: 16 Ages: 2-4 years with an adult Description: This program was designed for the smallest of our TimberNook adventurers. You and your child will venture into the woods for creative play opportunities that engage the mind and challenge the senses, such as hosting a tea party in the garden to doing “construction work” in mud puddles to experimenting with color in giant foam experiences. You’ll also walk away each week with an idea on how to inspire creative play at home.   Going Wild Session Dates: July 8 -12 Time: 9:00am - 3:00pm Capacity: 24 Ages: 7-12 years Description: An all-time classic TimberNook camp for older children who enjoy taking play to a whole new level. Children will create an elaborate fort system equipped with trap doors, barricades, tunnel systems, and more. It will be a week full of adventure, games, and surprises! This program will stretch the minds of your young ones and leave them asking for more.   Extreme Art Session Dates: July 15 – 19 Time: 9:00am - 3:00pm Capacity: 24 Ages: 7-12 years Description: This week is full of active creativity and lots of color! Campers will have the opportunity to create their own fruit and veggie dye to dye fabrics, build some fabulous forts to duck and cover from paint bombs, rocket paint into the sky, play Messy Monkey In the Middle and more! Those who enjoy art in a big way will have a large canvas to work with.   Storybook Session 2 Dates: August 5 – 9 Time: 9:00am – 12:00pm Capacity: 20 Ages: 4-7 years Description: One of our most popular programs where young children “live and breathe” stories out in the wild. We’ll be doing everything from experimenting with colors in a giant foam experience for the story "Little Blue and Little Yellow" to creating life-sized spider webs over the mud after hearing the story "The Very Busy Spider." With the turn of every day comes a new story for the children to experience and lots of FUN!   How much does it cost? Storybook Sessions: $110 Tiny Ones: $60 Extreme Art: $235 Wild Ones: $230   Where is the TimberNook site? All TimberNook sessions will be held at Climbers Run Nature Preserve, in partnership with the Lancaster County Conservancy. Climbers Run is located at 226 Frogtown Road, Pequea, PA 17565.   Who can attend TimberNook? Below is some information that may be helpful in deciding if your child would be successful in a TimberNook program. We are available to answer specific questions about your child, so please contact us if you have questions. As a program in the woods, children will be walking a short distance to the site; navigating over natural surfaces such as roots and uneven ground. Children should be able to follow directions such as being kind to other children and keeping an adult in sight at all times. Children should be able to stay within a designated area and not be a flight/elopement risk. TimberNook is a child-led program. This means that adults step back but tune in for many portions of the day. Peer interaction is a vital component of the program.   How do I register? Registration is open now! Click here to sign up.   Who can I contact for more information? For more information about TimberNook, email timbernook@ourexcentia.org or call 717-299-4829 ext 333. Don't forget to like our Facebook page!

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Loose Parts

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When exploring TimberNook of Lancaster County at Climber’s Run, a number of random items might catch your eye...a wood pallet by the creek, a spool in the grass, sheer curtains hanging from a branch, a rain gutter leaning against a tree, and baskets of odds and ends. These items, with nature as their backdrop, begin exciting the imagination almost effortlessly - but why? What’s the thinking behind including these items in the woods? The answer is that what might appear to be “random” items are actually materials for inspiring a child’s creative play, called “loose parts."   The concept of loose parts came from the British architect, Simon Nicholson, in 1971 to describe “open-ended materials that can be used and manipulated in many ways.” For example, one of our favorite loose parts at TimberNook of Lancaster County will be tree cookies. Tree cookies are small, thin, round tree branch cuttings that may be used as plates to serve friends a pretend meal, stepping stones to an enchanted forest, a delicious doughnut, or a fence for exotic animals. Loose parts spark a child’s imagination and play.   Maybe this is why a young child sometimes finds the gift box of a toy more fun than the toy itself. The box is just more “loose” and without the constraints implied by the toy’s design and function. This type of flexible, limitless imagination play is what we encourage at TimberNook of Lancaster County, and loose parts are a key part of it.   Want to read more on loose parts? Loose Parts 2: Inspiring Play with Infants and Toddlers (Loose Parts Series) Paperback – July 12, 2016 by Lisa Daly (Author), Miriam Beloglovsky (Author) https://extension.psu.edu/programs/betterkidcare/early-care/tip-pages/all/loose-parts-what-does-this-mean http://www.communityplaythings.com/resources/articles/2015/loose-parts  

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Sensory Play

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Sensory processing is getting a lot of attention in the world of child development. Much of the public knowledge centers on children who are overly sensitive to sensations like noise, touch, and movement which may cause a child to respond in an aggressive or withdrawn manner. Sensory-sensitive activities are springing up in lots of locations, including Lancaster. Excentia has consulted with the Lancaster Science Factory and the Barnstormers for their sensory-friendly events. These events are much more comfortable for children who are easily stimulated.   But did you know that other types of sensory processing difficulties? In the first example, the children are too aware of sensation. However, there are also children who do not register sensation like their peers; they crave more input. They may respond to this need by being overly active and seeking sensation, or they may appear disinterested and unmotivated.   We all have tendencies based on our individual processing styles (fun fact – nothing gets into the brain except by way of our various sensory systems, and there are more than the 5 senses we commonly hear about). Personally, the tactile/touch system dictates some of my life. For example, I have a hard time getting work done if I am wearing long sleeves. Unusual, I know!   The first three years of life are referred to as the Sensory-Motor Period. Children experience lots of new adventures and their brain is organizing sensation in a functional way. They learn one of the most important skills for the future: self-regulation. Self-regulation is seen in our ability to calm down at the end of the day, pay attention to tasks, and other vital activities. Lack of self-regulation can lead to issues with sleep and behavior.   Childhood play is a major regulator of sensory stimulation. Children seem to have a natural sense of what their bodies need, just as they know when they are thirsty or hungry. The subsequent years of child development build on that foundation. Children need access to play that has them moving, processing, and problem-solving.   TimberNook creates child-led play with lots of opportunity to engage all of our senses. The sensory benefits of TimberNook have been demonstrated in a University of New Hampshire Occupational Therapy Research Study (2016). The results of the study “suggest that the quality of social interaction among the children did collectively differ between TimberNook and the children’s typical play environment. The environments were specifically different in their supportiveness regarding the objects available, the amount of space and configuration of that space, and sensory opportunities. We concluded that environments offering greater opportunities of objects, space, and sensory exploration, such as TimberNook, appear to support better quality of social interaction.​"   Are you interested in learning more? A portion of our TimberNook Information Session on January 22nd will be aimed at teaching attendees more about the developmental foundations of sensory processing. Sign up here.

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Let the Children Play

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As a pediatric occupational therapist with many years of learning in both formal and informal ways about early child development, I have developed some personal “guiding rules:" A child’s relationship to his/her mommy/daddy/loving adult is primary. Our role with an infant is to nurture and protect. Easy. The not-so-easy role is the gradual changes that should occur during childhood where parents step back and allow the child to learn from their own experiences. Allowing a child to take a risk; difficult. A child’s relationship to “Mother Nature” is a key component of development. For babies, this refers to gravity. As a society we have “over-containered” babies: infant seats, strollers, swings. Babies need to move and maximize the time they are playing on the floor. Children, too, need to move. Run. Climb. Roll down a hill. The evidence is in and it indicates that these activities promote far more than physical development. The architecture of the brain is established by our early experiences. We are sensory beings. Information gets into the brain by the sensory systems. Some of these are not widely recognized by everyone such as the proprioceptive system (information from our muscles and joints) and the vestibular system (information about movement and how we relate to gravity). They are vital components of our development. Play IS a child’s occupation. As an occupational therapist, I have frequently been asked how occupation relates to children. Play is the answer. Not all play is created equally. We must choose those opportunities that allow children to develop critical thinking and problem-solving skills while having fun. We want to stimulate their imagination and creativity. Knowing the above, it will not be surprising that I was very excited to learn about TimberNook. It knows, understands and supports my “guiding rules." Tagged as the Ultimate Sensory Experience, TimberNook is both a philosophy and curriculum. Set in the outdoors, Mother Nature is used as a “third teacher” to provide an environment where children can have authentic play experiences. With multiple options for programming, TimberNook can serve toddlers from 18 months-4 years (Tiny Ones) in a parent-child setting, and 4-7 year olds (Little Wild Ones) and 7-12 year olds (Wild Ones) in a child-and-staff setting. Excentia is excited to announce that we are now a TimberNook provider and will be doing programming in 2019! We are working in partnership with the Lancaster County Conservancy to use Climbers Run Nature Preserve as our site. This unique location will have an area specifically planned to facilitate “play the TimberNook way” as well as the existing trails, meadows, a stream, and forested areas. Head over to our TimberNook Facebook page and click the ‘Like’ button to stay informed as we roll out the plans for next year. We will also start posting more detailed articles about subjects that support the philosophy of TimberNook of Lancaster County!

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